Why Did Islam Become The Dominant Faith Of West Africa? (TOP 5 Tips)

Why did Islam become the dominant faith of West Africa? Muslims dominated the trans-Saharan trade routes. Visigothic rulers had persecuted them. reflect the beauty of the Muslim faith as fully as possible.


Which of the following was most responsible for the initial spread of Islam to West Africa?

Islam first came to West Africa as a slow and peaceful process, spread by Muslim traders and scholars. The early journeys across the Sahara were done in stages. Goods passed through chains of Muslim traders, purchased, finally, by local non-Muslims at the southern most end of the route.

How did Islam spread throughout Africa quizlet?

Islam would spread to West Africa by trade. The Mali king, Mansa Musa, followed Islam. He even undertook a Hajj and it was over a 3000 mile journey.

What caused a unique brand of Islam to develop in Africa?

According to Arab oral tradition, Islam first came to Africa with Muslim refugees fleeing persecution in the Arab peninsula. This was followed by a military invasion, some seven years after the death of the prophet Mohammed in 639, under the command of the Muslim Arab General, Amr ibn al-Asi.

Why did Islam spread so quickly quizlet?

Islam spread quickly because its leaders conquered surrounding territories. As Muhammad and the Muslim leaders that came after him conquered lands in the Middle East and beyond they spread the teachings of Islam. Islam spread quickly because its leaders treated newly conquered people well.

How did Islam affect West Africa?

Islam promoted trade between West Africa and the Mediterranean. The religion developed and widened the trans-Saharan Caravan trade. The trade enriched the West African and the Muslim traders. Muslims from North Africa came in their numbers and settled in the commercial centres.

Why did Islam succeed in Sub Saharan and East Africa?

Why did Islam succeed in Sub-Saharan and East Africa? The spread was peaceful, gradual and partial. Co-existed and blended with traditions. Islamic trading communities along coast.

What effects did Islam have on Africa quizlet?

Where did Islam have the greatest impact on African’s? Islam impacted Northern and Eastern Africa, but also Western African especially in Timbuktu. They accepted Islamic laws and ideas about right and wrong.

What were some effects of the spread of Islam into Africa?

In summary, the coming of Islam to Sub-Saharan Africa facilitated the rise of political empires, encouraged trade and wealth, and increased the traffic in slavery. In its pure form, Islam was more attractive to kings because of its concept of the caliph combined political power with religious authority.

How did the spread of Islam affect African slavery quizlet?

The spread of Islam into Africa during the seventh century, however, ushered in an increase in slavery and the slave trade. Muslim rulers in Africa justified enslavement with the Muslim belief that non-Muslim prisoners of war could be bought and sold as slaves.

How did Islam change in Africa?

Following the conquest of North Africa by Muslim Arabs in the 7th century CE, Islam spread throughout West Africa via merchants, traders, scholars, and missionaries, that is largely through peaceful means whereby African rulers either tolerated the religion or converted to it themselves.

How did Islam change the cultures and societies of northern Africa?

The societies of Africa had been mostly polytheistic or animist, but when Islam was introduced, many became monotheistic. Islam brought laws and stability to all parts of life for Africans, but took away many women’s rights because Africa was previously a matriarchal society. Mosques, schools, and libraries were built.

What caused the spread of Islam in North Africa?

Islam was spread to North Africa as a result of conquest over African tribes, missionary efforts by the Muslim people, and traders spreading the religion by ear. The Muslim people would also spread the religion through trade because it would help the trade and economy of the country.

What are 3 reasons why Islam spread so quickly?

There are many reasons why Islam spread so fast, however the main three reasons was trade, winning battles, and treaties. Trade Routes was an important part of how Islam grew so fast.

What was the main reason why Islam spread so fast?

The religion of Islam spread rapidly in the 7th century. Islam spread quickly because of the military. During this time, on numerous accounts there were military raids. Trade and conflict were also apparent between different empires, all of which resulted in the spreading of Islam.

What was the main reason for the spread of Islam?

Islam spread through military conquest, trade, pilgrimage, and missionaries. Arab Muslim forces conquered vast territories and built imperial structures over time.

The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform

Margari Hill is a professor at Stanford University. accessible in PDF format as of January 2009 (1.14 MB) While Islam has been present in West Africa since the seventh century, the expansion of the faith in the territories that are now the modern republics of Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Nigeria was a lengthy and difficult process that began in the Middle East and ended in the Middle East. Much of what we know about the early history of West Africa comes from medieval records written by Arab and North African geographers and historians, who were primarily concerned with the region’s geography and history.

The economic objectives of some are emphasized, while the spiritual message of Islam is emphasized by others, and a number of others emphasize the prestige and impact of Arabic literacy in the process of state creation.

Despite the fact that commerce between West Africa and the Mediterranean predates Islam, North African Muslims were responsible for the expansion of the Trans-Saharan trade.

The trade routes Sijilmasa to Awdaghust and Ghadames to Gao, for example, connected Africa below the Sahara with the Mediterranean Middle East and were important commercial routes.

The Sahel region of West Africa was the site of the development of the three major medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and the Songhay.

Containment is the first stage.

The historical evolution of the medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay, as well as the 19th century jihads that resulted in the foundation of the Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland and the Umarian kingdom in Senegambia, are illuminated by this three-phase paradigm.

Containment: Ghana and the Takrur

Islamic settlements tied to the trans-Saharan commerce were the only places where Islam could be found in the early days of civilization. Al-Bakri, an Andalusian geographer who lived in the 11th century, recorded details of Arab and North African Berber communities in the region during his time. A number of causes contributed to the expansion of the Muslim merchant-scholar class in non-Muslim nations, including: Islam encouraged long-distance trade by providing merchants with a helpful set of instruments, including as contract law, credit, and communication networks.

  1. In addition to having created script, they possessed other important abilities that aided in the administration of kingdoms.
  2. Additionally, merchant-scholars played a significant role in the expansion of Islam into the forest zones.
  3. Muslim populations in the forest zones were minorities that were frequently related to trading diasporas, according to historians.
  4. Al-Hajj Salim Suwari was a Soninke scholar who focused on the responsibilities of Muslims in non-Muslim societies.
  5. This practice has been in place for generations in the forest zone, and it continues to be effective today in areas where there are active Muslim minorities.
  6. Ghana The name was chosen as a means to pay homage to early African history.
  7. Peoples such as the Soninken Malinke, the Wa’kuri, and the Wangari have lived in this region for thousands of years.

Around the year 300 A.D., large settlements began to appear in the Niger Delta region.

Merchants trading in salt, horses, dates, and camels from northern Africa and the Sahara exchanged them for gold, lumber, and food from the countries south of the Sahara, according to historians.

This gave rise to one of Ghana’s most distinctive characteristics: the dual city; Ghana’s Kings benefitted from Muslim commerce while keeping them outside the country’s political centre.

African kingdoms eventually began to enable Muslims to enter into their societies.

Around this time, the Almoravid reform movement began in the Western Sahara and spread over modern-day Mauritania, North Africa, and Southern Spain, among other places.

Muslims in West Africa benefited from the Almoravid revolution, which brought greater consistency of practice and Islamic law to their communities.

The Takruri realm was weakened as a result of the Almoravids’ conquest of trade routes and fortified fortifications. It would take more than a hundred years for the empire to disintegrate into a collection of minor kingdoms.

Mixing: The Empires of Mali and Songhay

Over the next several decades, African kings came to embrace Islam despite reigning over populations of varying religious and cultural beliefs and practices. The mixing phase, as specialists refer to it, was a period in which many of these kings combined Islam with conventional and local rituals. After a period of time, the populace began to embrace Islam, typically just adopting components of the faith that they found appealing. The Mali Empire (1215-1450) arose out of a series of fighting kingdoms in West Africa.

  1. It was a multi-ethnic state with a diverse range of religious and cultural organizations.
  2. However, while the empire’s founder, Sunjiata Keita, was not himself a Muslim, Mali’s rulers converted to Islam by 1300.
  3. He established Islam as the official religion of the country and traveled on a pilgrimage from Mali to Mecca in 1324.
  4. According to reports, his spending depreciated the value of gold in Egypt for a number of years.
  5. By the fifteenth century, however, Mali had essentially disintegrated as a result of internal dissension and warfare with the Saharan Tuareg.
  6. Hausaland was made up of a series of city-states that were connected by a network of roads (Gobir, Katsina, Kano, Zamfara, Kebbi and Zazzau).
  7. During the ninth century, the state adopted Islam as its religion.

Northern Nigeria today includes most of Hausaland and Bornu in the east, as well as the rest of the country.

The kings of Hausaland followed in the footsteps of the rulers of prior Muslim republics in blending indigenous traditions with Islam.

Despite the fact that Islam was the official state religion, the vast majority of the populace continued to adhere to their traditional religious beliefs.

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In the period 1465-1492, Sonni Ali, the ruler of the country, punished Muslim academics, particularly those who denounced pagan rites and practices.

Two centuries later, the kingdom of Gao re-emerged as the Songhay Empire, bringing the kingdom back to life.

Under the reign of King Songhay (1493-1529), the Songhay’s territory grew well beyond the bounds of any previous West African empire.

One famous example is the Great Mosque of Jenne, which was constructed in the 12th or 13th centuries and is still standing today.

By the 16th century, the Niger Bend area was home to various centers of commerce and Islamic study, the most famous of which was the fabled city of Timbuktu.

Timbuktu was established as a trade station by the Tuareg.

In 1325, the city had a population of around 10,000 people.

Timbuktu drew academics from all across the Muslim world to attend its conferences.

The Songhay Empire came to an end in 1591, when Morocco captured the realm.

As a result of the dispersal of merchant scholars from Timbuktu and other major learning centers, learning institutions were transferred from urban-based merchant families to rural pastoralists throughout the Sahara.

A mystical Sufi brotherhood organization began to expand over this region somewhere during the 12th and 13th centuries.

In African Muslim civilizations, Sufi organizations played an important role in the social order and the propagation of Islam throughout the continent, and this continued far into the twentieth century.

Reform in the Nineteenth Century: Umarian Jihad in Senegambia and the Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland

The jihad activities of the nineteenth century are the clearest example of the third phase in the growth of Islam in West Africa. During this time period, experts have emphasized the manner in which literate Muslims grew increasingly aware of Islamic theology and began to seek reforms on the part of the leadership. Historically significance because it symbolizes the transition from Muslim communities that practiced Islam in conjunction with “pagan” ceremonies and customs to cultures that fully embraced Islamic ideals and created Shariah (Islamic Law).

  1. Mauritania was the site of the first known jihad in West Africa, which occurred around the 17th century.
  2. Nasir al-Din, a scholar, was the leader of an unsuccessful jihad known as Sharr Bubba.
  3. In 1802, a Fulani scholar named Uthman Dan Fodio took the initiative and launched a massive jihad.
  4. Because of this movement, there has been a consolidation of power within the Muslim community, as well as educational and legal changes.
  5. His progeny carried on his legacy of literary creativity and educational reform into the modern day.
  6. One famous example was the jihad of al Hajj Umar Tal, a Tukulor from the Senegambia area, who was killed in the course of his mission.
  7. His conquests of three Bambara kingdoms took place during the 1850s and the 1860s.

Despite the fact that the French were in charge of the territory, colonial authorities faced a powerful adversary.

Following his death, French soldiers beat Toure’s son in a battle that took place in 1901.

Despite the fact that European forces were responsible for the fall of the Umarian state and the Sokoto Caliphate, colonial domination did little to prevent Islam from spreading over West Africa.

Sokoto Caliphate came to an end in 1903 when British soldiers invaded and annexed the region.

Contrary to colonial officials’ hopes and dreams, colonialism had far-reaching consequences for the Muslim society of Northern Nigeria.

Thus, Islam began to grow swiftly in new urban centers and regions, such as Yoruba land, as a result of this.

Despite the fact that Muslims lost political authority, Muslim communities made great strides throughout West Africa during the first decades of the twentieth century.

The trans-Saharan commerce route served as a key conduit for the spread of Islam throughout Africa.

Muslim communities have flourished in West Africa for more than a millennium, demonstrating that Islam is a substantial component of the continent’s cultural and religious environment.

  • InTimeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. 2001), “Western Sudan, 500–1000 AD.”
  • “Western and Central Sudan, 1000–1400 AD.”
  • “Western and Central Sudan, 1600–1800 AD.”
  • “Western and Central Sudan, 1600–1800 A.D.”
  • “Western and Central Muslim Societies in the History of Africa. Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels’ book, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2004, is a classic (eds). The History of Islam in Africa is a fascinating subject. Spencer Trimingham’s History of Islam in West Africa was published by Ohio University Press in Athens, Ohio, in 2000. Oxford University Press, 1962
  • New York: Oxford University Press, 1962

The Spread of Islam in Ancient Africa

InTimeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. 2001), “Western Sudan, 500–1000 AD.”; “Western and Central Sudan, 1000–1400 AD.”; “Western and Central Sudan, 1600–1800 AD.”; “Western and Central Sudan, 1600–1800 A.D.”; “Western and Central Sudan, 1600–1800 A.D.”; “Western and Central Sudan, 1600–1800 A.D.”. InTimeline of Art Societies of Muslims in Africa’s past In 2004, Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels published a book called The Cambridge Companion to Philosophy (eds).

A Note on Islam

The rise of Islam in Africa was characterized by much more than only the transmission and adoption of religious concepts, it is maybe worth mentioning at the outset. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) General History of Africa, Islam is more than a religion; it is a comprehensive way of life that encompasses all aspects of human existence. Muslim teachings give direction in all elements of life – individual and social, material and moral (including financial), political (including economic), legal (including cultural), and national (including international).

III, page 20) Given the foregoing, it is probably more understandable why so many African kings and elites were willing to embrace a foreign religion, especially when that religion also carried with it tangible benefits in terms of governance and riches.

Geographical Spread

After the Umayyad Caliphate of Damascus conquered North Africa in the second half of the 7th century CE, Islam moved from the Middle East to take root throughout the whole continent during the second half of the 7th century CE. Through Islamized Berbers (who had been either pushed or coaxed to convert) it spread throughout West Africa in the 8th century CE, traveling from the east coast into the interior of central Africa, and eventually reaching Lake Chad, where it was eradicated. Meanwhile, the religion moved down through Egypt and then swung westward across the Sudan area below the Sahara Desert, where it is still practiced today.

Trade Routes Across the Sahara Aa77zz is an abbreviation for Aa77zz (Public Domain) Once the religion reached the savannah region, which stretches throughout Africa below the Sahara Desert, it was embraced by the governing African elites, however local beliefs and rites were frequently maintained or even incorporated into the new religion’s practices and ceremonies.

  1. In the east, the faith spread via the Mali Empire (1240-1645 CE) and the Songhai Empire (1240-1645 CE) (c.
  2. 1591 CE).
  3. 900 – c.
  4. Do you enjoy history?

Muslims in East Africa were up against stiff competition from Christians, who were firmly entrenched in Nubia and states such as the Kingdoms of Faras (also known as Nobatia), Dongola, and Alodia, as well as in the Kingdom of Axum (first – eighth centuries CE) in what is now Ethiopia, among other places.

  • In addition, the Sultanates of Adal (1415-1577 CE) and Ajuran (1415-1577 CE) were two prominent Muslim states in the Horn of Africa during the same period (13-17th century CE).
  • Islam achieved greater instant success on the Swahili Coast, which is farther south.
  • As the native Bantu peoples and Arabs mingled, so did their languages, and intermarrying became popular.
  • From the 12th century CE, when Shirazi merchants arrived from the Persian Gulf, Islam began to become more firmly entrenched in Europe.
  • Curtin, a historian, describes it thus way: “In the end, the Muslim faith emerged as one of the most important determinants of Swahili identity.
  • Despite the fact that Islam was a huge success on the coast, it had little effect on the peoples who lived in the interior of East Africa until the nineteenth century CE.
  • A significant number of people were adamant in their refusal to accept this new religion in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
  • In the following centuries, the Christian Portuguese came in Africa, on both the west and east coasts, where they posed a serious threat to the growth of Islamic civilization.

Kilwa has a magnificent mosque. Richard Mortel is a fictional character created by author Richard Mortel in the 1960s. Mortel’s character is based on the fictional character of the same name created by author Richard Mortel in the 1960s (Public Domain)

Reasons For Adoption

Beyond true spiritual commitment, African leaders may have recognized that adopting Islam (or seeming to do so) or at the very least tolerating it would be good to trade relations with other countries. Both Islam and trade have long been interwoven, as illustrated in this section of the UNESCO General History of Africa: Islam and Trade. A well-known truth about Islam and trade in Sub-Saharan Africa is that they go hand in hand. The Dyula, Hausa, and Dyakhanke were among the first peoples to be converted when their respective nations came into contact with Muslims since they were the most commercially engaged peoples in their respective countries.

  1. Islam, a religion that originated in the commercial community of Mecca and was proclaimed by a Prophet who himself had worked as a merchant for a long period of time, presents a set of ethical and practical prescripts that are intimately tied to the conduct of business.
  2. (Volume III, page 39) However, there is no indication that the kings of theGhanaEmpire themselves converted to Islam; rather, they accepted Muslim traders and Ghanaians who chose to convert during their reign.
  3. Two towns existed: one was Muslim and featured 12 mosques, while the other, which was just 10 kilometers distant and connected by several intermediary structures, served as the royal home and contained many traditional cult temples, as well as a mosque for passing merchants.
  4. Mansa Musa is the illustrator.
  5. In the following centuries, several monarchs followed suit, most notably Mansa Musa I (r.
  6. Mosques were constructed, such as Timbuktu’s Great Mosque (also known as Djinguereber or Jingereber), and Koranic schools and institutions were formed, all of which swiftly garnered international renown and prestige.
  7. A clerical elite arose, many of whose members were of Sudanese descent, and many of them commonly served as missionaries, bringing Islam to the southern areas of West Africa and expanding it throughout the region.
  8. In proportion to the increase of conversions, an increase in Muslim clerics from outside was recruited, resulting in the expansion of the faith throughout West Africa.

Finally, Muslim clerics were frequently of great assistance to the community in practical daily life (and thus increased the appeal of Islam) by offering prayers on demand, performing administrative tasks, providing medical advice, divining – such as the interpretation of dreams – and creating charms and amulets, among other things.

  1. This might very well have been the most essential element in the adoption of the Kingdom of Kanem in the late eleventh century CE.
  2. Another advantage of Islam was that it provided literacy, which was a hugely important tool for empires that relied on commerce to build their riches.
  3. Carsten ten Brink is a Dutch businessman.
  4. 1464-1492 CE) was vehemently anti-Muslim; however, King Mohammad I (r.

The rural inhabitants of Songhai, like their counterparts in Ghana and Mali, remained steadfastly committed to their traditional beliefs.

Accommodating Ancient African Beliefs

However, as previously said, traditional indigenous traditions continued to be practiced, particularly in rural populations, as documented by travelers such as Ibn Batuta, who visited Mali in 1352 CE. Furthermore, Islamic studies were done, at least initially, in Arabic rather than native languages, which further limited their appeal outside of the educated clerical class of towns and cities. It may have been because African rulers could not afford to completely dismiss the indigenous religious practices and beliefs that were still held by the majority of their people, and which very often elevated rulers to divine or semi-divine status, that Islam did eventually take hold, though it was a distinct variation of the Islam practiced in the Arab world.

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Ancestors were still honored, and in certain places, women were given more privileges than they would have had under strictly sharia rule.

Sankore Mosque, TimbuktuRadio Raheem is a local radio personality.

Cultural Impact

Islam had tremendous influence on many elements of everyday life and society, albeit these effects varied depending on the period and region in which they occurred. The arrival of Islam resulted in a broad deterioration of the social standing of various tribes in ancient African cultures. One of the most significant losers was the metalworkers, who had long been held in magical regard by the general public due to their abilities in forging metal. A similar statement may be made about individuals who discovered and mined valuable metals such as gold and iron.

  • Also true is that in some cases oral traditions retained their cultural integrity, and as a result, we are presented with a parallel history, such as the biographies ofSundiata Keita(r.
  • 1230-1255 CE), the founder of the Mali Empire In various African communities, men and women’s roles have evolved in the past, with some African societies formerly granting women a more equal standing with males than was the case under Muslim legislation.
  • Some of the more cosmetic alterations included the use of Muslim-friendly names in place of Christian names.
  • In addition, clothing has altered, with women in particular being pushed to wear more modestly, and teenagers being encouraged to hide their nudity.
  • However, there were slight regional variations in the religion, just as there were in the religion itself.
  • The introduction of Islam brought with it a plethora of technological advancements, including writing, numbers, arithmetic, measures, and weights.

Along with archaeology, these writers have made significant contributions to the reconstruction of ancient Africa following the European colonial period, during which every effort was made to obliterate the history of the continent lest it conflict with the racist belief that Africa had been waiting for civilisation for eons before it was discovered.

Did you like reading this article? Prior to publication, this paper was checked for correctness, dependability, and conformance to academic standards by two independent reviewers.

western Africa – Muslims in western Africa

Around the year 1000CE, a decent corpus of materials for the writing of western African history begins to become widely available. Three centuries previously, the Arabs had finished their conquest of Africa north of the Sahara, putting them in control of the northern termini of trade routes that connected the continent to the rest of the world via the Sahara desert. The thriving school of geographers and historians that flourished in the Muslim world from approximately the 9th to the 14th centuries gained access to increasing amounts of information about what they called thebild al-sdn, the territory of the Black peoples south of the Sahara, as the Islamic world grew in sophistication.

  1. Due to their scorn for non-Islamic communities, the Muslim authors were unable to pass on much of what they must have understood about the organization of pagan Black civilizations, preferring instead to concentrate on and criticize what they perceived to be their most grotesque deviations.
  2. The first eyewitness description of western Africa is most likely that of the globe travelerIbn Baah, who traveled through western Sudan in 1352–53 and wrote about his experiences.
  3. In reality, only the northern marches were part of Theirbild al-sdn.
  4. In spite of the fact that they had significant towns and cities that were supported by a developed agriculture, it is clear that the organization of the more northernly western African peoples was not entirely tribal from the start of Arab contact to the present day.
  5. To tax commerce and collect tribute from agricultural communities, kings, whose claim to power was based on ancestry from the fabled divine founding ancestors of their ethnic groups, used bodies of retainers who supplied them with armed force as well as a hierarchical structure of officials.
  6. Certainly, the Islamic system of administration and control of trade, cities, and government in western Africa grew increasingly prevalent.
  7. It was in two large western African kingdoms that early Muslim attention was concentrated: Kanem, in the east, north of Lake Chad; andGhana (modern-day Ghana), in the extreme west, near the borders of modern-day Mauritania and Mali.

Despite this, ancient Ghana (not to be mistaken with its modern-day namesake, which is located substantially further south and east) had already achieved levels of organization that presupposed several centuries of continued growth.

Ab Ubayd al-Bakr, a Córdoban geographer who lived in the middle of the 11th century, wrote a detailed description of the city’s capital, court, and trade.

There were six miles between their respective centers, and the entire land in between had been developed to some extent.

Several indicators of riches and power were visible at the court, and the monarch was supported by a large number of satellite rulers under his command.

One of the most important aspects of this commerce was the exchange of gold for salt, which Ghana’s own merchants brought in from areas to the south.

According to archaeology, al-depiction Bakr’s is largely accurate.

Ghana’s status as a gold-producing country probably contributed to the comparatively high level of Muslim interest in the country.

Several more western African kingdoms were likely in existence at this time, but the Muslim sources include little information about them other than their names and approximate positions in the region.

A second possibility is that Malel, located to the south of Ghana, served as a prototypical state for the later Mande kingdom of Mali, which would eventually eclipse and swallow Ghana itself.

To begin, they are said to have arisen as a result of an invasion of agricultural terrain by pastoralists from the Sahara who belonged to the Libyan Amazigh clans, who spoke a non-Semitic language and were the dominant group in North Africa before to the conquest of the region by Arabs.

In the period from about the 15th century until the present, many of these narratives were recorded by local authors who wrote in Arabic and were Muslims, and who so had an incentive to link the history of their peoples with that of North Africa and the neighboring Middle East, among other things.

  • Therefore, the “Hamitic theory,” according to which all advancement and development among agricultural Blacks was the product of invasion or infiltration by pastoralists from northern and northeastern Africa, came to be accepted as fact.
  • There can be little question that over the millennia, pastoralists from the Sahara have marched and conquered their way southward from their homeland in Africa.
  • Also difficult to comprehend is how migratory desert pastoral communities could be successful carriers of ideas and institutions from the established civilization of the Nile valley to other agricultural territories in western Africa, despite their geographical mobility.
  • Some early western African traditions can undoubtedly be construed in this way, as can some contemporary traditions.
  • From at least 4000bce, there is archaeological evidence for the development of a cattle-herding and agricultural economy among a mixed population of Libyan Imazighen and Black agricultural peoples (now known as Arn) in the Sahara.
  • This exodus of people, which took place between about 8000 and 2000 BCE, is thought to have been caused by the desiccation of the Sahara and the evolution of the current desert.

In favourable riverine or lacustrine environments, it seems reasonable to assume that the same desire to avoid conflicts over land and water rights, as well as to control and exploit agricultural surpluses, that had led to the dramatic kingship and civilization of the pharaohs in an exceptionally fertile but extremely constrained environment such as the Nile valley, should have occasioned the evolution of similar if less spectacular monarchies.

To be sure, the major western African monarchies known to the Arabs by approximately 1000cewere not located in the well-watered lands along theSénégalandNigervalleys or aroundLake Chadbut rather north of these, in the less-favored agricultural territory between them and the southern edges of the Sahara, as is commonly assumed today.

The western African kingdoms had their own iron resources, which were in some cases being exploited by about 500bce, but they also imported other metals, notably copper, as well as horses, luxury goods, and—above all—salt, which was a vital commodity that was scarce throughout western Africa, with the exception of the coastlands, by this time.

  • The movement of such goods across the Sahara dates back to pre-historic periods, maybe even before the foundation of the present desert.
  • Historians such as Herodotus and other classical authors, as well as rock carvings found in the desert, have documented that horse-drawn chariots were in use in the Sahara by around 500 BCE.
  • It is possible, however, that North Africans were interested in the alluvial gold found in the upper Niger and Sénégal rivers, as evidenced by the fact that the engravings are distributed along two main lines, from the Fezzan and southern Morocco to the upper Niger and Sénégal rivers.
  • Despite this journey, the Carthaginians do not appear to have been successful in establishing a regular marine trading route between Europe and western Africa.

In the southern fringes of the Sahara, the profits to be made from distributing Saharan and Mediterranean produce in western Africa, as well as from controlling the collection and export of the western African commodities that were exchanged for them, must have been a powerful factor in encouraging the kings of communities on the southern fringes of the Sahara to expand their rule by conquest over adjacent similar communities.

Control over larger regions meant that, via tribute and taxation, they could amass larger stores of commodities for barter with North Africa and the Sahara, as well as more customers and slaves, allowing them to expand their authority at the cost of their neighbours and expand their empire.

That the dominance of the ancient Ghanaian monarchs, who controlled the gold export from the Sénégal and Niger valleys, was consolidated in this manner may be assumed with some degree of certainty.

The states of the Sudan

Pick a Region:.The Middle EastOver 350 million peoplelive in the Middle East. The Middle East (see politicalmap), for the purposes of this module, includes the states of
EgyptSaudiArabiaYemenOmanUnitedArab Emirates (UAE) QatarBahrainKuwaitIranIraq SyriaTurkeyLebanonJordanIsrael
It is important to notethat at this time there is no state of Palestine-only territories(the Gaza Strip and portions of the West Bank) within the Middle Eastthat are controlled by the Palestinian National Authority. The peoples of the MiddleEast can be differentiated on the basis of their ethnicity, religion,and national identity. EthnicityArabs constitutethe majority ethnic group in all of the Middle East states exceptIran, Israel, and Turkey (see politicalmap): Originally, the term “Arab”referred to the peoples that inhabited the northern and central portionsof theArabian Peninsula. Following thespread of various Arab-Islamic empires throughout the Middle Eastand into Europe and south Asia (seeHistory),the term “Arab” has come to be synonymous with those who speak Arabic.Presently, about 60% of the total population in the Middle East speakArabic and consider themselves to be an Arab. In addition to Arabs, thereare a number of other ethnic groups in the Middle East. The chartbelow lists the states in the Middle East that do not have an Arabmajority, the ethnic group that makes up the majority, and the percentof the population each ethnic group has within its particular state.Another significant ethnicgroup would be the Kurds, who exist as a minority population distributedthroughout Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. ReligionIn addition toethnicity, the peoples of the Middle East are differentiated by theirreligion. Most of the people in the Middle East practiceIslam.They are referred to asMuslims. Islamis the dominant religion in all of the Middle Eastern states exceptIsrael and Palestinian areas. According to the list ofstates, the Middle East is almost uniformly populated by Muslims.However, this apparent uniformity of religion masks a number of importantdistinctions. For instance, there are a number of different sectswithin Islam. Most people in the Middle East belong to the Sunni sectof Islam. Another sect, Shiite orShia Islam, is the majority religion in Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain.There are also Shiite minorities in Lebanon, Kuwait, and Yemen. Other smaller sects alsoexist within Islam. These sects include, among others, the Alawites,the Druze, the Ibadis, the Ismailis, the Shafis, and various Sufiorders. Islam is practiced in othercountries besides the Middle Eastern states listed above. Over thecenturies Islam spread far and wide, through Asia and Africa, andeven to parts of Europe. This spreading of Islam has resulted in Islambecoming the dominant religion in non-Middle Eastern states such asAfghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Thereare also large numbers of Muslims in the Philippines, China, the formerYugoslavia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, parts of Europe, and even the UnitedStates. In fact, more Muslims live outside the Middle East than within. In addition to Islam, otherreligions are practiced in the Middle East. For example, in Israel82% of the population are Jews who practiceJudaism.Israel the only state in the Middle East where Islam is not the majorityfaith. Christianity is also practiced in the region, especially insuch states as Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. National IdentityThe peoples ofthe Middle East are differentiated by their national identity (suchas people who live in Syria are Syrian, people who live in Iran areIranian, etc.). While ethnic and religious identities are importantin the Middle East, people often have a strong sense of nationalism(a strong attachment to the state) that is connected to their nationalidentity. These individuals often place more emphasis on their countryof origin than their ethnic or religious background.


It is estimated that about half of all West Africans are Muslim, with a distinct north–south divide: Muslim nations dominate in the Sahel and Sahara, while Christianity is more prevalent in the southern coastal countries. Having said that, traditional or animist ideas are strongly held in practically every country in the area, including the United States.

Traditional Religions

Muslim populations constitute about half of West Africans, and there is a distinct north–south divide: Muslim populations dominate the Sahel and Sahara, whilst Christian populations dominate the southern coastal countries. Even Nevertheless, traditional or animist ideas are deeply held in practically every nation in the region.

The Role of the Natural World

It is almost universally accepted that all traditional religions are animist, meaning that they are founded on the belief that natural things or occurrences have the ability to sustain life or awareness. Such a result, a particular tree, mountain, river, or stone may be considered sacred (as is the case among the Lobi people of southern Burkina Faso) because it represents, is the home of, or simply is a spirit or god, among other reasons. The number of deities worshipped by each religion, as well as the phenomena that symbolize them, differs.

Other essential aspects of traditional religious practices include the use of totems, fetishes (talismans), and charms.

A substantial role is played by masks as well, and they are frequently used as a means of communication between the human and natural worlds.

The Role of Ancestors

Many African faiths place a high emphasis on ancestors, and the Igbo and Yoruba peoples of Nigeria are two of the most striking instances of this. The primary job of ancestors is typically to safeguard the tribe or family, and they may on occasion express their ancestral happiness or dissatisfaction in various ways, depending on the circumstances (eg in the form of bad weather, a bad harvest, or when a living member of the family becomes sick). As many variants on the topic as there are various cultural groups in West Africa, it is practically impossible to keep track of them all.

Many traditional faiths also believe that the ancestors are the true proprietors of the land, and that, while it can be enjoyed and utilized throughout the lifespan of their descendants, it cannot be sold and must be maintained for as long as they live.

Good health, abundant crops, and a large number of offspring are all possible requests.

The Dogon people of Mali, for example, have festivities before planting (to guarantee healthy harvests) and after harvest (to commemorate the completion of the harvest) (to give thanks).

A Central Deity?

Spirits and deities are acknowledged in some traditional faiths together with the presence of a superior entity or the Creator. For example, the belief system of the Bobo people of Burkina Faso and Mali is predicated on this entity, who is frequently depicted as being too elevated to be bothered with humanity. In many cultures, communication with the creator is only possible through minor deities or through the intercession of ancestors, rather than directly with him.

IslamWest Africa

Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abdal-Muttalib ibn Hashim (also known as the Prophet Mohammed) was born in the year 570. Mohammad’s family was a member of the Quraysh tribe, which was a commercial clan with ties to both Syria and Yemen. By the time Mohammed was six years old, both of his parents had died, and he was placed in the care of his grandpa, who was the keeper of the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. When Mohammed was 40 years old, in the year 610, he took refuge in the desert and began receiving supernatural revelations from Allah through the archangel Gabriel; these revelations would continue for the rest of Mohammed’s life.

He urged them to abandon pagan practices and submit to Allah, the only real deity, as a sign of repentance.

It should come as no surprise that the Prophet’s message and movement resonated most strongly with the poorest and more alienated parts of society.

The Spread of Islam

When Mohammed died in 632, Arab tribes advanced fast across the Middle East, capturing most of what is now Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories in a very short period of time. To the west, the inexorable invasion of North Africa spread throughout the continent. By the end of the 7th century, the Muslims had reached and conquered the territory that is currently known as Morocco. In 710, they launched an invasion of Spain. Because of the natural barrier produced by the Sahara, Islam took far slower to spread in West Africa than it did elsewhere in the world.

Islamic religious supremacy in the Sahel was established in the 17th and 18th centuries, filling the void left by the then-defunct Sahelian empires and consolidating its hold on the region.

Many Muslim nations were founded over time, including Futa Toro (in northern Senegal), Futa Djalon (in Guinea), Masina (in Mali), and the Sokoto state of Hausaland, which is located in the Sokoto region (Niger and Nigeria).

Although ordinary people in many regions preferred to maintain their traditional beliefs, Islam quickly became the state religion in many West African kingdoms and empires. As a result, a fusion of beliefs emerged, which continues to be a part of West African society today.

The Quran

The Quran is considered by Muslims to be the word of God, which was personally delivered to Mohammed. It is divided into 114 suras (chapters), each of which governs a different area of a Muslim’s life. Whether the revelations were recorded during Mohammed’s lifetime is unknown, but Muslims believe the Quran is the direct word of Allah as sent to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. During the reign of the third caliph, Uthman (644–56), everything written by the scribes was collected and handed over to a panel of editors working under the caliph’s supervision (parchments, stone tablets, and the recollections of Mohammed’s disciples).

The Five Pillars of Islam

The five pillars of Islam (the fundamental tenets that Muslims use to guide them in their everyday lives) are as follows: The essential principle of Islam is expressed in the Shahada (profession of faith), which states, “There is no deity but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet.” Salat(prayer) Muslims are required to face Mecca and pray at several times throughout the day, including sunrise, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and dusk.

  1. The call to prayer, which can be heard in all of the Sahel’s cities and villages, marks the beginning and end of prayer hours.
  2. Sawm(fasting) Ramadan, which celebrates Mohammed’s first revelation, is the month in which all Muslims fast from dawn to sunset from the beginning of the month.
  3. In West Africa, the word hadj is used to refer to the pilgrimage.
  4. It is very uncommon for families to save for a lifetime in order to be able to send only one member to the conference.
  5. For males, individuals who complete the pilgrimage in West Africa are given the honorary title of Hadj, and for women, they are given the honorable title of Hadjia.

Islamic Customs

Drinking alcoholic beverages, eating carrion, blood products, or pork (all of which are considered unclean), eating meat from animals that have not been slaughtered in the prescribed manner, and consuming food over which the name of Allah has not been invoked are all prohibited in everyday life for Muslims. Adultery, larceny, and gambling are likewise strictly outlawed in the United States. Islam is not only about prohibitions; it also serves as a commemorative marker for significant moments in a Muslim’s life.

It is customary to have the newborn’s head shaved and to sacrifice an animal in honor of Abraham’s readiness to offer his son to Allah a week after the baby is born.

Circumcision is a significant event in a boy’s childhood, and it usually takes place between the ages of seven and twelve years old. When a person passes away, a funeral ritual is performed in the mosque, and the body is buried with the feet towards Mecca, according to Islamic tradition.

Islam South of the Sahara

It is possible that ancient animist ideas are merged with more orthodox theological concepts in Sub-Saharan West Africa more than everywhere else in the Islamic world. This is particularly true in sub-Saharan West Africa. In certain nations, like Senegal, marabouts possess significant political power, and their influence is growing. As one of the more popular Islamic forms in West Africa, Sufism, which emphasizes mystical and spiritual attributes, was one of the most widely practiced. Some scholars speculate that the importance that Sufis place on religious teachers may have gained popularity in West Africa because it mirrored existing hierarchical social structures.

The preaching of a harsher interpretation of Islam has gained momentum in recent years, often with the backing of clergy and finances from Saudi Arabia.

The rise of fundamentalist groups such as Boko Haram (which has its origins in northeastern Nigeria) and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been particularly extreme.


Christianity came in West Africa later than Islam, during the period of colonial exploration; missionaries were among the first colonial residents in the region when the first wave of explorers arrived. The Sahelian countries, where Islam had been founded centuries earlier, were less successful, but they discovered more fruitful ground further south, where indigenous religions were still in power. The present distribution of Christian strongholds reflects this narrative: Christianity is the majority religion in Cameroon, Cabo Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Liberia, the Republic of Congo, and So Tomé and Prncipe, and the largest religion in Benin and Togo.

Many West African Christians, like many Muslims, have maintained their traditional beliefs, which are commonly practiced alongside Christian beliefs in their respective countries.

There has, however, been something of a pushback against such doctrinal fusions, resulting in the creation of evangelical churches that are often extremely orthodox, and which are growing increasingly dominant in some countries, notably Nigeria.

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